Google Might Crossed a Line with New Privacy Policy

Just weeks after the popular search engine joined Wikipedia and Facebook in a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, Google has announced its new privacy policies that have stirred international leaders.

The French Commission Nationale de L’informatique et des Libertés (National Commission of Computing and Civil Liberties), CNIL, wrote a letter to the Google CEO Larry Page questioning the privacy policy implications.

The letter further explained that the new policies appear to violate European Union law. Calling the policies so vague that even a trained privacy professional would have problems deciphering them.

Vague is the perfect word to describe Google’s new privacy policies. A quick word find conducted on the privacy preview page yields 39 matches for the word “may,” 14 under the “Information we collect” section.

They may collect device-specific information. They may collect your search queries. All this to offer you better ads and more relevant searches, kind of like Facebook.

The difference is Facebook amended its terms and conditions after public outcry at the amount of information it was collecting and using.

Some things stay the same. When making a Google account, you will still be asked for your personal information like birthday, email address and telephone number. That I can deal with.

I am trying to figure out why Google thinks it is necessary to know information like “calling-party numbers,” “duration of calls,” “unique device identifiers,” or “the people who matter the most to you online.” Google claims the information is collected from its services to “protect and improve them” and to “protect Google and our users.” But who will protect the users from Google?

The Obama administration has raised a similar issue. On Feb. 23, the Obama administration released a report meant to be a blueprint for the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.” Included in the proposal is the individual consumer’s control to exercise what information a company can collect.

My favorite is the transparency right. “The right of consumers to have easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.”

In the age of the Internet, these protections are vital to protecting consumers from having personal information exploited by mega-corporations. Online privacy rights are long overdue.

“Americans have always cherished privacy. Form the birth of our republic, we assured ourselves against the unlawful intrusion into our homes and our personal papers,” reads the first line of the proposal. “And later we extended privacy protections to new modes of communications such as the telephone, the computer, and eventually email.”

I agree. Internet is the new platform for communication and should be treated as such. Social networks and globalization has led to a world that is Internet dependent and our rights should not fade because we are now using a computer.

I think Google may have stepped over the line.